I first saw Roy Bailey at the Bradshaw Tavern folk club when we were appearing on the same bill and later worked with him on a good few occasions, both when he was working solo, and when he was working with Leon Rosselson. ( I have to say, by the way, that I think Roy is one of the best interpreters of Leon’s songs around: Roy has recorded classic versions of songs such as Why Does It Have To Be Me? Jumbo The Elephant and Palaces Of Gold.)
His voice, his stage presence, his commitment and sincerity along with his understanding of what constitutes a damn good song means that Roy has had a huge influence on many of us that came through the the folk scene.
For more than 50 years he has sung, taught, protested, supported, written, lived and talked folk music and in particular folk song. His great voice is capable of tenderness as well as anger; he can sing love songs every bit as well as such biting angry songs as Blackleg Miner.
Roy, it seems to me, has never seen folk music as something anodyne and pleasant, something that falls in with John Major’s view of England as a place of warm beer and cricket, where old maids cycle to church through misty meadows – an image, by the way, that was lifted directly from George Orwell. He has always seen song as being part and parcel of the culture of the working people of this country and sees folk music as an essential part of the struggle for freedom from oppression, whether because of class, gender or race.
He has always been the epitome of what great folk music is about – love and courage. Like Pete Seeger, Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger, Holly Near and the early Dylan, he understands completely that folk music is the voice of the people.
Roy was awarded an MBE for “services to folk music” in 2005. He returned it a year later because of what he saw as this country’s complicity in wars of aggression in the Middle East. The late
Labour MP, Tony Benn, declared that Bailey was “the greatest socialist folksinger of his generation.” Chris Smith, the then Minister of Culture, called him “one of the world’s best carriers of the people’s message.”
He is that and more.